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Posted by on Dec 29, 2008 in General | 12 comments

Safety in Numbers

When I moved to the Orlando area a couple years back, the thought of riding my bike to work was seriously entertained.  Being a recreational bike rider, I was hesitant to give commuting a go.  My first dilemma was the fact that the sidewalks ended at a certain point and I would be forced to ride the road.

Reluctantly, I tried commuting at a coworkers urging.  The sidewalks were nice and the road was a tad scary.   The jeers from the “inconvenienced” motorists had become part of the daily ride.  I began researching the bike laws and found that the road was wide open to me, legally, as a human propelled vehicle.

Since I that day, I have learned a great deal about commuting and vehicular cycling.  Once the high prices of fuel reached a peak, I noticed the jeers had lessened and more bike were seen.  Unfortunately the majority of these new riders I see are sidewalk (recreational) riders.

It appears that this surge of bike riders is making a difference in how motorists treat cyclists.  This change I feel would not have been seen if the number of bikes (cyclists) had not increased.  While I do not know the Orlando stats, I found an interesting post on the Bicycling.com forum:

http://www.science.unsw.edu.au/news/a-virtuous-cycle-safety-in-numbers-for-riders-says-research/

From the article:  ’And it’s not simply because there are fewer cars on the roads, but because motorists seem to change their behaviour and drive more safely when they see more cyclists and pedestrians around.’

Safety is in the numbers, but only if the numbers are properly TRAINED to obey the laws and follow safety practices.

Ride safe and Happy New Year to all!

12 Comments

  1. I bike-commuted to work for a year in Orlando, biking from Metrowest to the SeaWorld area and was always frustrated with impatient cars –of course, I was one of only 3 or 4 bikers that I ever saw on that route. Since moving to the Colonial Town area, however, I’ve found that vehicles drive much more cautiously. Its great to see more cyclists on the road. Anyway–great blog!

  2. I’m not sure what to attribute it to (possibly my imagination) but there did seem to be a decrease in the impatience when gas prices were at their highest, and I’ve experienced more honking since the prices came down.

    I think motorists’ expectations are a factor in how they behave and treat cyclists. In the urban area the speeds are lower, motorists don’t have an expectation of uninterrupted mindless speed. There are also more unpredictable elements forcing them to pay attention—pedestrians, cyclists, cars puling into an out of parking, etc.

    Out in the ‘burbs the roads are designed for mindless speed, there are few cyclists and even fewer pedestrians… then add the traffic lights and volume that prohibit the expected speed, and the ensuing frustration. The deck is already stacked against us there… despite that passing us safely has exactly zero impact on their travel time on those roads.

    I wonder if, as Rodney suggests (and Mighk did too, a few weeks ago), increasing numbers of confident, law-abiding cyclists would enhance civility by changing the expectation that we do belong (and can ride safely) on those roads.

    Our best bet for safety ultimately comes down to individual riding practices.

  3. One of course has to be careful not to read too much of our perceptions into our theories, but there’s some data to support the idea that motorists could have gotten a bit more polite during the higher gas prices.

    In FDOT’s survey of motorist attitudes about cyclists (and pedestrians), 68% percent believed “most bicycle riders do so for recreation and not necessarily for transportation.” Even the dimmest motorists probably put two and two together this summer and realized that those cyclists out there during rush hour were probably not out for recreation.

  4. Maybe the ‘burbs here in North Texas aren’t designed for mindless speed, but I rarely run into (no pun intended) impatient motorists in my “all burb” commute. Mostly people just want to get from point A to point B without conflict.

    I’ve been keeping track since the December 5 post on “nice” motorists versus “mean” ones. December hasn’t been much of a cycle commuting work, what with the holiday, some lousy weather, and a week I took as vacation, but so far, it’s been 3 “nice” and no “mean.” In January, the harder part comes of figuring out just what that means in % terms of total interaction.

    Perhaps Rodney needs to examine to what extent his improving cycling style is responsible for the reduction in jeers and figure out how to do even more of what works.

    Whether or not more cyclists on the roads or not improves safety shouldn’t affect how we ride and keep ourselves safe on a daily basis.

  5. Once I discovered that bicycles are legal vehicles, I picked up a copy of Street Smarts from the FBA. Yes, I changed my driving habits while occupying the lane.

    I use and recommend all to have a copy of this booklet (and others like it) to refresh knowledge and to share with newbie commuters and those that are not quite doing it properly.

    Yesterday, I did a short 6.4 mile commute to the post office from my in-laws in GA. GA Hwy 92 is known for the “get-there-itis” of motorists and is a very busy two lane road. My in-laws are highly skeptical to drive their cars on this road.

    Pedestrian and cyclist traffic is almost nil for this road so I was quite surprised to make the entire trip WITHOUT the first honk or shout to get off the road.

    I attribute this to maintaining lane control (lessons from Street Smarts, ComuteOrlando, etc.) and acknowledging the motorists as they came within passing distance.

    Skills and education are the key to being safe whether in motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian mode.

  6. An experience on Xmas eve illustrated how motorist attitude is far more important than perceived delay. My wife and I were driving the tandem down Conway Road (4- lanes; 11-foot curb lanes), and taking the lane around 2:PM. There were a few cars which were part of a platoon which had to wait a short while (5-10 seconds or so) to get a gap in the inside lane so they could pass us. None of them honked.

    A few minutes later when there was no traffic around us, a solitary pick-up came by and honked at us as he effortlessly changed lanes and safely passed.

    The message was clear: “Even though you aren’t delaying me in the least, I don’t think you have any business being on this roadway.”

  7. Mighk said: The message was clear: “Even though you aren’t delaying me in the least, I don’t think you have any business being on this roadway.”

    This is, by far, the most common form of honking I experience.

    Although… today I had the first “mean” motorist in my tally—huge pick-up pulling a trailer on a road with speed bumps. First, he honked. Then passed into oncoming traffic, having to slow for a speed bump mid-pass, then cut back in and had to slow for another speed bump, and then a stop sign. He interfered with the oncoming traffic much more than he did Lisa & me, and for nothing… so he could go 2 mph faster on a 25 mph road… for the remaining 1000 ft before the road opens up and it’s easy to pass.

    But I’m sure glad we weren’t riding on the edge of the road… that’s exactly the kind of careless jerk who will take a cyclist out with a trailer.

    BTW: Street Smarts is the best. And it’s free from FBA.

  8. Don’t discount (no pun intended) that at the peak of gasoline prices, many, many motorists began driving more carefully, and by extension, more cautiously. Lots of people WERE paying attention to the way they drive relative to how much fuel they burned. Courtesy could have been a side effect.

    Also, we saw greatly reduced numbers of vehicles on our freeways at that time. All manner of interesting data to play with.

  9. Mighk said: “A few minutes later when there was no traffic around us, a solitary pick-up came by and honked at us as he effortlessly changed lanes and safely passed.”

    Please indulge me for a moment on this point. This happens to me dozens if not hundreds of times a ride. (Well, the passing part. Honks are rare!)

    Typical American cyclists, used to cowering in the gutter, seem to think that a motorist will not do this. That when confronted with an obstacle in their way they will not alter their course or speed in any way. That they will not see a cyclist in the middle of the lane until it is too late to avoid hitting him!

    Here in Dallas, we have mostly 45 MPH four lane arterials with 10′ to 12′ foot lanes. (No curbside parking to speak of.) As you can imagine, here in Texas, going the speed limit is “going slow”. And folks look at the traffic zooming along and they can’t see how a slow moving vehicle would avoid disaster. I suppose that is what it looks like while standing on a curb.

    But signals bunch the motorists up into platoons, and the first one overtaking you in his lane has a long time to decide what to do. The profile of a cyclist is somewhat unique, and when a cyclist is spotted, he is immediately identified as a slow moving obstacle.* And motorists are highly trained to avoid bumping into things. From their first driving lesson, and reinforced hundreds of times during each trip they take, it is an automatic response. Every one of us has seen a motorist alter his course to avoid a plastic shopping bag blown into his path by the wind.

    So unless the motorist is drug impaired or psychopathic, a cyclist is in no danger from traffic behind him IF HE IS IN THE LANE. The motorist will avoid you.

    But if you are curb-hugging just outside the lane, you can be dismissed as “out of the way” by a multi-tasking driver with a habit of drifting. As there have been many cyclists struck while being on the shoulder or in a bike lane, I think it is far more dangerous than taking a lane.

    Traveling in the lane seems to annoy some motorists. The prospect of doing that is so abhorrent to some cyclists that they avoid taking the lane whenever possible. (As Keri’s recent photo essay demonstrates.)

    While I had to overcome that notion myself, it helped to understand that a motorist is delayed hundreds of times a trip. When a motorist trips a signal, and forces cross traffic to come to a complete stop just so he can proceed on his way, why isn’t that considered rude? When a car slows to turn into a driveway, impeding traffic behind him, why isn’t that considered rude?

    So now, all of my attention is forward- where the hazards are- and I let the motorists behind me cope as they can.

    Incidentally, I think that Dallas’s narrow right lane configuration is the best cycling environment out there. I have 10 years of riding in southern California from the San Gabrials to the ocean, from Santa Maria to San Diego, most of it on wide curb lanes. Many close passes and right hooks.

    In the past two years in Dallas (I am car-free) I have been right hooked zero times! I recommend that narrow right lanes are best for cyclists.

    Look at me prattle on! Tailwinds to all this new year! Chip

    *This is quite different than a motor vehicle. At a glance, a driver will naturally assume the car he sees ahead of him is traveling about the speed he is. If he is distracted, he may not notice in time that the other car is not moving, and the distance between them is rapidly closing. This sort of rear-end collision with a bicycle is very rare because of the instant recognition of cyclists as slow vehicles.

  10. Said ChipSeal– “Incidentally, I think that Dallas’s narrow right lane configuration is the best cycling environment out there. I have 10 years of riding in southern California from the San Gabrials to the ocean, from Santa Maria to San Diego, most of it on wide curb lanes. Many close passes and right hooks.”

    I was trying (back when it was my job) to reconfigure Mockingbird Lane from it’s current 11/11/11 striping to 12/12/9, forcing curb-bunnies to almost “take the lane”, de facto. Hysteria ensued at my presentation (from the rotating cyclists’ club). ;-)

  11. Traveling in the lane seems to annoy some motorists. The prospect of doing that is so abhorrent to some cyclists that they avoid taking the lane whenever possible.

    This fear of pissing people off seems to be a much bigger issue than fear of being hit. At least for “experienced” cyclists.

    So now, all of my attention is forward- where the hazards are- and I let the motorists behind me cope as they can.

    This is a huge stress relief when a cyclist learns to let go of worrying about what’s behind.

    BTW, the photos ChipSeal referenced are in the gallery.

    Happy New Year!

  12. Keri said, “This fear of pissing people off seems to be a much bigger issue than fear of being hit. At least for “experienced” cyclists.”

    I was told by a club ride group leader that I was endangering the group by taking the 8 foot lane, despite being told “car back” at least four times. The danger was that motorists would later attack the riders for my actions. All of the motorists I encountered passed safely. Clearly a delusion for the ride leader, shared by far too many people who ride bikes.